Tournament Report: 1st place at NRG’s February 5K with 5C Humans

Much of the attention this week has been on GP Toronto and the interesting brews that came out of it. However, the Nerd Rage Gaming February 5K also happened last weekend and it was quite the event to behold. Michael Yeakey battled his way to the top through twelve rounds with his trusty Humans and he is here to share his experience with us.

Metagame Considerations
Although I am likely to sleeve up Champion of the Parish for most Modern tournaments, I was especially excited for Human’s meta position this weekend in particular. Grixis Death’s Shadow was on the rise and I expected to see quite a bit of it this weekend. On top of this, many Izzet Phoenix players had been experimenting with the Mono-Red version due to cards like Light Up the Stage. I also expected an over representation of Burn since there had not been any large modern events in the Midwest since Skewer the Critics had been released. All of these are inherently good matchups for Humans that are improved further with specific side board selections, but more on that later. The larger metagame share matchups I was not as excited to see this weekend were Dredge, Izzet Phoenix, Amulet Titan, and Bant Spirits. I believe Mono-Red Phoenix to be a good matchup and Izzet a bad one because Thing in the Ice has that much game against us; it flips the matchup on its head. Overall, I think that the good matchups are more heavily slanted in Humans favor than the bad matchups are against it.

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The Build
I have not played very much of these new “Hot Bant” builds that are discussed heavily in the Humans group, but I will say that in theory I am not a fan. I am a longtime traditional Affinity player and originally switched to Humans because I was tired of losing to removal-based decks that out-resourced me. The interaction that Humans provides is the primary draw to the deck for me, and I feel that these Bant builds lose a lot of that.
In the main deck I opted to go with the full set of Thalia. She has game against almost all of Humans’ bad matchups, especially Izzet Phoenix. Going into the weekend Izzet Phoenix was public enemy number 1, partly due to maindeck Gut Shot, and I would not feel safe without the fourth Thalia in the main deck. Even when you draw multiple copies, she is typically the first creature that is killed from any spell-based deck and the second one can be back-breaking to many of these decks. The times it is bad, it is really bad; most importantly in the Bant Spirits matchup. However, I felt that hedging against Izzet Phoenix was too important.

Kessig Malcontents has fallen under the radar for many players recently. In my testing for SCG Columbus I found that in many of the matches I was losing, my opponents won the game with only a handful of life left. From the get-go I have never been impressed by Militia Bugler; shout out to Cedric Phillips. In most cases the best hit is a Thalia’s Lieutenant and in its worst case it scrys a few Mantis Riders to the bottom of your deck. The times at which Militia Bugler really shines is when Jund or Pyromancer is on top and they were not my concern for this weekend.

Regarding the mana base, I have been a proponent of 1 Island and 1 Plains since I first won an IQ with this configuration after a friend convinced me last minute to run it. I have tried many things over the Seachrome Coast, including a second Plains most recently at SCG Columbus, but nothing has felt quite right.

In the sideboard I made the tough decision to go with a full set of Auriok Champion. As I mentioned, I thought that Burn would be overrepresented this weekend and Grixis Death’s Shadow is currently the number one Modern deck on MTGGoldfish. Auriok Champion is just phenomenal against both these decks and can mean lights out if you ever draw a second copy. On top of that, Auriok Champion provides you more relief against Dredge; especially if you chose not to include any graveyard hate as I did. I think that most of the graveyard hate options for Humans are less than good and do not do enough against Izzet Phoenix.

Kambal has slowly grown more and more on me as time has gone on, especially because of its superb utility in the Izzet Phoenix matchup. Control decks are at an all-time low right now and sin collector just has not been pulling its weight for me. Along with this came Damping Sphere, which is a great option for not only any phoenix deck, but also Amulet Titan for which we do not have many other great sideboard options. Although it does also have game against Tron, it is important to sideboard correctly to maintain an aggressive deck or you will still lose to their natural land drops. The rest of the sideboard is fairly stock, but I only ran one Izzet Staticaster to make room for the second Kambal and because I have been unimpressed with its use against Bant Spirits.

The Rounds
Rd 1:  2-1 over Burn
I keep a hand of  Vial, Noble, Lieutenant, and four lands; including a Horizon Canopy. I figure that being on the draw and with the Canopy as a redraw I will be able to see some action. Turn 1 my opponent plays a Goblin Guide and attacks, revealing another land. I play my Vial and my opponent plays another Goblin Guide, revealing two more lands, and then a Light Up the Stage. I topdeck a Meddling Mage and die quickly afterwards. I was not stressed since I knew that my sideboard plan would be able to outclass his which it was able to a few Auriok Champions and Knight of Autumns later.

Rd 2: 2-1 over Mono-Red Hollow One with Arclight Phoenix
My opponent plays Turn 1 Burning Inquiry, discarding most of my action and then playing two Hollow Ones. They then looting a Phoenix away and proceeded to bash me in. Game 2 we got a random deck check and my opponent unfortunately receives a game loss due to curved foil cards. Game 3 my opponent mulls to 5 and keeps a hand with two Burning Inquiries and a Goblin Lore but never sees any action. I am not actually sure if I would have been able to win this if we played all three games. Auriok Champion is not very good against Hollow One and the reach of Arclight Phoenix could have been a death sentence.

Rd 3: 2-1 over Humans
In game one my opponent was off to a blistering start including a Turn 1 Vial. I was under a ton of pressure and my life total was low. After a few Meddling Mages from both sides making the game much more complicated I was able to maneuver into a position with two Vials to my opponent’s one keeping them off playing any relevant two or one drops and my opponent never drew any more Mantis Riders. Game two I got blown out when Vial tricking a Thalia’s Lieutenant and another creature. My opponent flashed in an Izzet Staticaster to kill off both in response to the triggers. An oversight on my part capitalized on by a good play from my opponent and my hand was not very good after that. I was shortly ran over and we went to a Game 3. It was largely unremarkable but being on the play with an Vial on Turn 1 is the real mirror-breaker.

Rd 4: 2-1 over Burn
I was happy to see my opponent play Turn 1 Mountain into Rift Bolt suspension as I was able to play a Turn 2 meddling mage to effectively counter the Rift Bolt. I believe my opponent may have gotten stuck with a few copies of Light Up in hand as not much else was played after that. In Game 2 I did not see a single Auriok champion and the game ended on the turn I was about to play Kessig Malcontents. In Game 3 I played a Turn 3 Kambal and was able to keep up Vial on two for Phantasmal Image. This allowed me to copy the Kambal in response to my opponent attempting to kill it. So I ended the game at a cool 15 life.

Rd 5: 2-0 over Jund
Game 1 my opponent did not see a green source until Turn 4 in the form of Raging Ravine, which was far too late for my aggressive start. I was somewhat nervous going into Game 2 since I was not prepared for the Jund matchup with my sideboard and main deck. Due to the few sideboard cards I had to bring in, I kept in Kessig Malcontents which actually ended up ending the game quickly after Reflector Mage took care of a Turn 2 Scavenging Ooze. A lucky break for my unprepared deck.

Rd 6: 2-1 over Mono-Red Phoenix (Phil Silberman)
This match was played on camera and can be watched on the NRG Twitch channel. Briefly, in Game 1 I had a quick start with Turn 1 Vial into some disruption. My opponent had some good card drawing effects but did not see much burn and was not able to fight through my disruption. Game 2 I was under the aggression from the deck and Bedlam Reveler did a lot of work. I did concede prematurely as I did not factor in Kitesail blocking, although I was dead to almost any top deck from the Phoenix deck. I was fairly sure that my Auriok Champions would come into play in Game 3 either way. They did and in conjunction with Thalia’s Lieutenant they sealed the deal.

Rd 7: 2-1 over UW spirits (Matthew Nelson)
This round I played against the UW Spirits player that went on to Top 8. Game 1 I was able to squeeze out a victory despite a timely Deputy of Detention taking away my largest threat. In Game 2 I was overran by a fast start of lords and Spell Quellers preventing me from getting my foot in the door. In Game 3 I had an aggressive start that forced my opponent to chump block early with some lords that pushed him out of the game. I really liked my opponents deck and I want to explore playing this more myself. Main deck Eidolon of the Rhetoric completely hoses any Phoenix strategy which is a primary antagonist of the Spirits decks right now.

Rds 8 and 9: Intentional Draws
I was able to ID into the Top 8 from here. I was surprised to see that I entered Top 8 at the second seed despite taking two IDs, but it ended up being a huge boon to my success.

Rd 10: 2-0 over Burn
Going in to the Top 8 I was not particularly excited about my chances. I knew that there was one copy of Bant Spirits, the UW Spirits player, Sam Black on Dredge, and Grixis Death’s Shadow. Out of these I was only excited to play against Shadow. I was relieved when I sat down to play Round 10 and saw Goblin Guide on my opponent’s deck registration sheet. I do not remember much of the games themselves but the Auriok Champions, Kambals, and Knights in my sideboard came to the rescue again.

Rd 11: 2-1 over Izzet Phoenix
This and the finals match were also both on camera and can be found on the NRG Twitch channel. At this point in the tournament we had been in the convention center for a very long time so my opponent and I were not at our best. In Game 1 I made the decision to name Manamorphose  with Meddling Mage to see if I could get my opponent to burn some removal before I played my Thalia. Also, sandbagging the Phantasmal Image was to try and maintain Thalia via Vial on two, since it is very good in the matchup. Aside from that, I think the play my opponent made on his last turn came mostly out of the exhaustion of ten rounds of Magic, but it allowed me to win a very close game. Game 2 went the way this matchup normally goes, and I got very quickly ran over by a Young Pyromancer. Game 3 I did not play perfectly. I should have attacked my Thalia into my opponent’s Pyromancer and one open mana; in my head I was playing around Gut Shot. I also should have used Izzet Staticaster on my opponent’s tokens before the attack to force him to chump block with the Pyromancer to maximize damage. Regardless, I was able to create too many must-answer threats in the form of Thalia, Kambal, and a large Thalia’s Lieutenant.

Rd 12: 2-1 over Bant Spirits
Being on the play in Game 1 was a massive advantage here. I was able to get an aggressive start and put my opponent to a low life total and then finish them off with a Kessig Malcontents. Game 2 was quite the opposite and I was on my back foot the whole game. I do think I had an opening of a turn where I should have attacked with four Mantis Riders along with the two Meddling Mages to set my opponent to a low life total. But at the time I reasoned that I could not risk letting my opponent kill either of the Meddling Mages. In Game 3 we saw the advantage of Champion of the Parish over Mausoleum Wanderer. My opponent did not get to play many cards and there was a position where they had plenty of mana and no relevant permanents other than Vial. I used my own Vial to play Knight of Autumn and destroy theirs but I likely should have made a 4/3 instead to put the final nail in the coffin. Regardless, we got there.

Overall, this was probably one of the most taxing tournaments I have ever played in terms of mental and physical stamina. Twelve rounds of magic in one day is a lot to play, especially with this much riding on the line. Humans is a great deck and will continue to always be on the verge of being a top tier deck. This weekend was certainly the one to be playing Humans, it took another player to Top 16 of GP Toronto while no Spirits players reached that height. Time will tell if it is Humans turn to be the top tribal deck once again.

If you have any questions, want to talk more, or want to berate Michael for his plays you can find him on Twitter here or join us in our discussion group. Tomorrow we will be back with a tournament report from the champion of GP Toronto himself, Michael Rapp. Until then my friends.

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